The Tragedie of Hamlet

William Shakespeare.
The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke.
Weimar: Cranach Press, 1930. (10592)

Numbered 299 in an edition of three hundred.

The Cranach Press operating under the direction of the diplomat, writer, arts administrator, publisher Count Harry Clemens Ulrich Graf von Kessler (1868–1937) was devoted to the production of fine text coupled with fine art. Count Kessler’s first publication had been Notizen Über Mexico, 1898, recording his exploration of that country, replete with woodcut decorations and photographs. He founded the press in 1928 after a failed attempt to organize a center for modernism around the institution that he directed, the Grand Ducal Museum of Arts and Crafts in Weimar. Following examples and ideals promoted by William Morris and other leaders of the English fine press movement, Kessler employed noted artists such as Eric Gill, Aristide Maillol, type designer Edward Johnson, and actor/set designer Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966) who provided the woodcuts for Hamlet.

Son of actress Ellen Terry, Craig started out an actor, appearing from 1889 to 1897 in Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum in Westminster, and then in his own company producing Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Dido and Aeneas, The Masque of Love, and Acis and Galatea. In 1898 Craig founded and began to publish a magazine, The Page, promoting literature, theater, and visual arts. He wrote much of the content under various pseudonyms and also provided woodcuts. The experience was encouragement to become more active as a scene designer and artist. His graphic output was exhibited widely. Subsequent magazine projects include The Maskin, 1908–1929, and The Marionette, 1918. Craig’s prolific writing resulted in the publication of several books on theatrical theory that remained influential throughout the century. He also wrote biographies of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. Craig moved to Florence in 1907 and established The School for the Art of the Theatre in 1913, which closed at the outbreak of World War I.  Despite the notoriety of his professional and romantic relationship with dancer Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) as documented in her published letters, Gordon Craig’s legacy remains in his nontraditional approach to scene design, stage lighting, and acting. A significant collection of Craig’s papers resides at The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas in Austin.

Craig’s idea that actors should contribute symbolic, rather than emotive, performances is revealed in the woodcuts he prepared for Count Kessler’s Hamlet. Characters he depicted are stoic figures assuming their marks on the page. The rarified settings reflect those he developed for the stage with screens and panels intended to be rearranged to fit each scene.

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The Tragedie of Hamlet